Remember Jack Logan? Well, hopefully you never forgot him. The lo-fi singer-songwriter behind 1994’s critically acclaimed, homespun 42-track Bulk has been cranking out albums at a fiery pace, with a total of thirteen under his belt. After an eight year semi-retirement, Logan recently released Bones In The Desert with guitarist Scott Baxendale. We ask him about the new album, what he’s been up to on his hiatus, and how he goes about his songwriting.
Where you been so long? What have you been up to?
I’ve been right here in Athens. I have a wife and two boys, ages 10 and 12. They manage to keep me occupied.
Tell us a bit about your new album.
My brother-In-Law is John Neff and he became acquainted with Scott Baxendale while playing guitar with the Drive-By Truckers. Scott writes a lot of music but is a little less prolific with the lyrics. When John heard this he suggested that he and I hook up, knowing that I ‘ll write a lyric at the drop of a hat. We hit it off right away and started getting together to write songs for our own amusement. At some point Scott became enamored with the results and floated the idea of doing a small-run vinyl record. Being an anachronistic vinyl junkie myself, I couldn’t have been more willing!
How would you compare it to your last album?
I can’t really compare it to anything else I’ve done because the others weren’t done with Scott. Scott is really good at what he does and if this record has any value he deserves the lion’s share of the credit. He wrote and arranged all the music, played guitars, roped in all the musicians, recorded it, mixed it…Hell, he even built some of the instruments! I just wrote my dopey little words and tried to sing in tune…
Who are your songwriting heroes?
The list is endless, really. Hank Williams, Jagger/Richards, Willie Dixon, Wilko Johnson, Eno, Ian Dury, Ray Davies,Nick Lowe, Pete Townsend, Willie Nelson,Garcia/Hunter,Curtis Mayfield, Dylan, Mak E. Smith, Lucinda Williams,Vic Chesnutt, Rodney Crowell, Randy Newman, Iggy Pop, Bacharach/David…I could go on like this all day.
When did you start writing songs?
Frankly, I’m still waiting for them to get good! I’ve sort of realized that I have, over the years, developed my own little thing. It’s not the typical singer/songwriter approach…I refuse to do lyrics that are openly confessional and I have never written anything meant to “move” people emotionally…I’m also not much on overt social commentary. I tend to write about little snapshots of life, character studies of reprehensible characters, or little word puzzle constructions with veiled meanings. Not exactly a sure path to success…
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
It was called “Fish Sandwich.” The backing track was a a dippy Carmen McRae instrumental I had on a thrift shop 45. I recorded it by playing the 45 and singing along with it and recording that on a little cassette player. It was meant to be funny but it came out more like a blues. I was astonished.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
I haven’t got the lyric yet but I’ll probably finish it tonight or tomorrow. I write almost every day.
How do you go about writing songs?
It all revolves around recording. I’ve never written a song unless I was in the process of recording it.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
I’ve done it every way imaginable. Lyrics first. Music first. Both improvised on the spot (very seldom, almost never). Most of the time it’s writing lyrics to fit the music, which is how we did “Bones In The Desert.”
What percentage of songs that you start do you finish?
99.9999999999% I tend to finish it even if I think it’s not working. They can be the best ones.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
Anything and everything. And nothing! Over the years I’ve developed a way to let my mind wander until I happen upon something that seems to fit what’s evolving. It’s great for songwriting but it makes me leave the milk on the counter instead of inside the refrigerator sometimes.
What’s a song on Bones In The Desert you’re particularly proud of and why?
Well, my favorite is “What Have You Been Up To” but it’s due more Scott’s weird, Middle-Easterny guitar part than anything I did. I like the lyric to “Motivated” a lot and, as far as character studies of reprehensible characters, it doesn’t get much more reprehensible than the protagonist of “Erased”.
What’s a lyric or verse from Bones In The Desert you’re a fan of?
As a 50-plus mammal heading in to the “returning to dust” phase, I like “A new coat of paint/Is all it takes to get me/back in to shape/from ten feet away.” As a…ahem…craftsman, I really like the way the “a” sounds of paint/takes/shape/away work together.
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
It’s not hard for me to write songs. Good songs are hard to write no matter how much you do it and great songs only come together under unique circumstances. I may approach good occasionally but have not achieved great as far as I know… And so much is in the interpretation. “Hello Walls” is great, but I don’t want to hear Barbara Streisand doing it. “I Wanna’ Be Your Dog” is great, but can be considerably less great if Iggy doesn’t sing it.
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
I have a blog…primarily to post music but it requires written content. I try to keep it pithy.
Are there any words you love or hate?
Nothing I hate but I shy away from the ones with intellectual overtones. Vic Chesnutt could get away with that kind of stuff because his songs demanded it.
The most annoying thing about songwriting is….
Knowing I’ve already written something similar at some point.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
I’ve adressed this! I guess the closest I’ve come to that would be ‘Shrunken Head’ because the character is somewhat sympathetic…unlike the fool in “Shit For Brains”…which more people relate to unfortunately.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Jamie Rouch, a good friend and huge influence who passed away from ALS in 2008. Also Louis Armstrong,Alex Chilton if he was in a good mood, and Wilko Johnson.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
What do you consider to be the perfect song (written by somebody else), and why?
“Pardon Me I’ve Got Someone To Kill” by Johnny Paycheck. It’s a chillingly straightforward account of a psychotic, bloodthirsty loser’s conversation with a bartender before he goes off to commit a double-homocide-suicide … and he almost comes off as sympathetic! An astounding, if despicable feat. Also ” Pink Moon” by Nick Drake because it almost has no lyric at all but still manages to suck you in to this mysterious world. Remarkable, and much less dastardly.